Snubbed Again! Who Do Ya Gotta Fuck Around Here To Win An Astrophysics Award?

If you must make a promise, make sure no one’s listening.

Rich Pliskin


“Traction of Events in Space-Time,” Attilio Pierelli. National Gallery of Modern Art, Rome. Photo by Idabelle Gitt

No doubt you’ve seen The Weekly Astrophysicist by now, so you know that I did not win this year’s Marcel Grossmann Institute award for contributions to the field of relativistic astrophysics.


Jesus Christ on a stick! Who do ya’ gotta fuck around here to win a space trophy?

I’m starting to think that this Grossmann game is rigged against English majors. In sixteen years, I’m zero for sixteen; so you do the math. I suck at numbers.

Not to trash talk this year’s winners or anything, but van den Schmück and Bliatchkin? Really? For the Grossmann? Evidently, you don’t have to be the sharpest bulb in the deck to snag the fattest prize in the firmament.

Eh. I shouldn’t be surprised. Everyone knows how in-bred the relativistic astrophysics claque is.

You know what? I don’t even care. I really don’t! Some trophy. You saw the review in the Astro, right? Looks like a giant cock ring with brass blades. No thank you, not on my mantel. Or anywhere else

The thing is, I promised my mother — on her deathbed — that I’d bring home the Grossy. That’s what they call the Grossmann trophy: a Grossy. Actually, they call it “Traction of Events in Space-Time,” but who the hell knows what that means.

Certainly not me. I dropped out of freshman astronomy after blowing the midterm. And not my mother, who hadn’t gone far enough to fail out: She quit college after two semesters to get hitched at nineteen and start pumping out English majors at twenty.

My mother knew nothing about space. But oh, how she loved stargazing, even if she couldn’t tell the Milky Way from a Moon Pie. So in her final hours, I promised her a Grossy. Sorta. Follow me, please.

She had been in an induced stupor for a few days by this time. Not a sign of life but for the intermittent bleeps of the monitors and the slow rise and fall of the bedsheet.

If you’ve ever kept a deathbed vigil, then you know how boring it can be. You mostly eat, snack, nap and occasionally finger through the nearest periodical, which in this case happened to be the Grossmann Institute’s 2005 annual awards program. The patient in the next bed, a space claquer by the name of Kernovsky, had left it behind upon taking his own leave.

Some of us seize the final moments of a loved one’s life to retract slights, forgive hurts, express gratitude, hold a hand.

And some of us stay true to ourselves right up to the end by blurting out stupid shit because an impulse is a terrible thing to waste.

So on the morning after Kernovsky’s departure, having polished off half a pound of malted milk balls and with time to kill before lunch, I picked up the awards booklet. It was chock a block with nifty space terms — the kind of stuff my mother loved. So I began reading it aloud to her.

When I came upon a photo of this Kernovsky character mooning over his Grossy — well, it was too rich a goof to forego.

“I’m gonna bring home a Grossy!” I exclaimed, turning the booklet to her. “For you, Ma! Top of the universe!”

Evidently, the universe enjoys its own rich goofs. Who could have predicted that my mother’s last flash of awareness would coincide with my promise to make her eternally proud by winning a big brass cock ring?

I must have jostled a few sleepy neurons. Just then, she opened a weak eye, searched for my hand, and with her last thrum of energy eked out a final testament: “Oh, Richard. That would make me so proud. [Cough, cough.] So proud. …Space.”

Then she then let out a sort of hiccup/burp combo, and fell back into what turned out to be the death snore.

My father, who had been nosing around the snack machines, stepped back into the room at that very moment. Seeing the look of horror on my face, he assumed that I had blurted out some stupid shit.

“I bet you just blurted out some stupid shit,” he said. “Am I warm?”

“Hot,” I said, sinking into despair. “Big Bang hot.”

“That’s m’boy.”

I let my head fall to my chest, and sighed for myself.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s not like she heard you or anything. C’mon. Let’s grab a bite. She’s not going anywhere.”

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Rich Pliskin

Lifelong writer. Credits include New York Times, NPR, The Motley Fool, Points in Case, Slackjaw, The Haven.